The closest I’ve been to becoming a star was when I was 8 and cast as the lead in a local TV adaptation of Amelia Bedelia. But on the day filming began, I got strep and my mom wouldn’t let me go. Can you even imagine? My whole life derailed by a sore throat.
So when I get the chance to take the stage again via Broadway Weekends, an adults-only pop-up theater camp, I am psyched for my next big break. On a Saturday morning, I arrive at Ballet Chicago for a two-day workshop during which I’ll learn songs and choreography from the Mean Girls musical. The instructors are from the touring company: Eric Huffman, who plays Damian; Gaelen Gilliland, the show’s Ms. Norbury; and Fernell Hogan II, a member of the ensemble. My workshop compatriots are a mix of up-and-coming performers, friends having fun, high school theater teachers, and those of us dying to live out our best Regina George fantasies. I’m cast as Gretchen Wieners, which, honestly, is incredibly fetch.
We’re hustled over to the piano to learn the big finale song, “I See Stars.” It’s a treacly number, IMO, with lyrics like “We shine as bright as day. I will look out for you. We’ll light each other’s way.” Everyone seems to love it. Eric plays the piano and yells instructions like “Sing measure 57, and I’ll play under you!” All my cast mates seem to know exactly what he means. Holy shit, am I in Fosse/Verdon? Quickly it becomes clear that I’m a terrible singer, so I commit to channeling my significant RuPaul’s Drag Race fandom into an exceptional lip-synch performance. Gaelen says it’s time for us to get the song “on its feet,” a.k.a. dancing. I’m supposed to “open a curtain” with my left arm while kicking my right leg out, and it’s like I don’t even go here. We cap off the first day by practicing the big “spring fling” scene, where Cady gives away pieces of her crown. I don’t have any lines, but I do nail the moment where I rush into the warm embrace of my fellow Plastics. You go, Glen Coco!
The next day, the workshop culminates in a small performance, or, as my current paramour called it, “So, like a recital? For adults?” YES, BRO, STEP ASIDE, MY RED CARPET AWAITS. We move through some final run-throughs, and I’m still a bad singer who’s fucking up all the dance moves. But my new theater friends are so nice and supportive, and as we begin our final performance, I’m overcome with love for all of them and this little piece of art we created together just because we’re human and we could and it’s fun. We sing, “You are real, and you are rare,” and point at each other, and dammit if in that moment I don’t feel it to be true. I commit to shining for the rest of the day! And make it about an hour before I realize being a star is exhausting and lie down for a nap.